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Do vitamins and supplements improve brain functionality?

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MedlinePlus, the publishing arm of the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a new study from the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) on Dec. 16, 2013. The study has five points it wants to make regarding using supplements and vitamins to improve cognitive functions, and to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is called 5 Things To Know About Complementary Health Practices for Cognitive Function, Dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease. The author's comments will appear in bold/italic so you will be able to separate the official information in the study from information and opinions supplied by the author. Each numbered topic is copied directly from the NCCAM description without alteration by the author.

NCCAM recommends that you talk to your physician before taking supplements or vitamins to address cognitive concerns. If your medical doctor has any real information about nutrition, alternative medicines and complementary therapies to share, discuss this with them. Otherwise, assume the official USDA statement regarding vitamins and supplements that is on every container, which can be summarized as “You are on your own!”

1. To date there is no convincing evidence from a large body of research that any dietary supplement can prevent worsening of cognitive impairment associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This includes studies of ginkgo, omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil, vitamins B and E, Asian ginseng, grape seed extract, and curcumin. Additional research on some of these supplements is underway.

The problems with the NIH and FDA are that they refuse to recognize the validity of oriental treatments with foods and herbs that have been used effectively for up to 5,000 years in the case of Ayurvedic medicine. Pharmaceutical drugs are very often unproven, with substantial side effects that make the diseases worst. The supplements and vitamins that NCCAM lists are largely blood thinners or plaque removers. Plaque in blood vessels in the brain is definitely a known issue with Alzheimer’s disease.

The NCCAM missed coconut oil, which has some anecdotal success stories in helping dementia and Alzheimer patients. Dr. Mary Newport treated her husband, Steve, with coconut oil and got immediate results that changed his life. The attached YouTube video has a description of the process by Dr. Newport, and Steve expresses how it changed his life.

The reason there are no data on vitamins and supplements are because most of the data about drugs are supplied by the pharmaceutical companies, and they are not going to provide information that vitamins, supplements and careful diets are more successful than their products.

2. Preliminary studies of some mind and body practices such as music therapy suggest they may be helpful for some of the symptoms related to dementia, such as agitation and depression. Several studies on music therapy in people with Alzheimer’s disease have shown improvement in agitation, depression, and quality of life.

Music is excellent for calming some patients that have Alzheimer’s disease. There are other approaches to maintaining cognitive functionality that has been shown to be effective. Those that use their brains to solve puzzles, do meaningful mental work, and maintain active social interactions delay or avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

There are proven studies that cognitive skills can not only be maintained but substantially improved with regular practice. One such approach is offered by Lumosity, which now has over 50 million subscribers.

Erica Prang, director of communications for Lumosity describes Lumosity’s approach.

"Lumosity is based on the science of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can change and reorganize itself given the right kinds of challenges.”

Lumosity does not claim to boost IQ, but it does claim to improve brain performance and provides a Brain Performance Index (BPI) to document changes in speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. BPI numbers are accumulated and separated by age to give a relative measure of performance for the users’ applicable age group.

3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may be helpful in reducing stress among caregivers of patients with dementia. To reduce caregiver stress, studies suggest that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program is more helpful for improving mental health than attending an education and support program or just taking time off from providing care.

This topic is focused on reducing stress for the caregivers for cognitively impaired people. This is a worthy area of concern. There is no mention of vigorous physical exercise or Eastern exercise programs like Tai Chi, Yoga and 10 Mindful Movements to reduce stress for both caregivers and those suffering from cognitive issues. These approaches are useful in maintaining cognitive health, and for reducing stress for caregivers.

4. Don’t use complementary health approaches as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about memory loss. Treatable conditions, such as depression, bad reactions to medications, or thyroid, liver, or kidney problems, can impair memory.

This advice recognizes that human beings are a combination of complex systems. Issues with the physical body functions have a direct impact on cognitive performance. Diseases of the kidney, liver, thyroid can impair brain functionality. So can brain tumors, lesions and blood circulation issues within the brain, and damage from strokes and other brain events.

If you carefully listen to the middle portion of many of the television commercials and print advertisements, you have been warned that these drugs may induce mental problems up to and including your committing suicide. Meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercises, and structured movements like yoga are less likely to cause serious cognitive issues than pharmaceutical drugs.

5. Some complementary health approaches interact with medications and can have serious side effects. If you are considering replacing conventional medications with other approaches, talk to your health care provider.

Few doctors know much about alternative therapies, use of food, vitamins or supplements as medicine. This was not always the case. Hippocrates, 460 BC – c. 370 BC, is considered the founder of modern medicine. He is often quoted as saying:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

Most doctors today are trained to accept pharmaceutical drugs as the preferred method of treating diseases, with surgery and radiation as the fallback approaches for diseases like cancer. The training in nutrition is minimal, and there is little or no exchange of information from the Western approach to the much longer duration Eastern approaches found in Chinese and Ayurvedic methods.

Going back to the conclusions in Point 1, omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil are specifically cited as having no beneficial effects in the treatment of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In the same NIH MedlinePlus release made on Dec. 16, 2013, we have the following results from a Swedish study.

Potentially Helpful Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Cross to Brain: Study

The summary states: “Findings might have implications for Alzheimer's treatment, although more work must be done.” This is mentioned because the release of information by MedlinePlus on the same date directly has one study directly contradicting a statement of a study from another source. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be able to supply energy to the brain when proteins interfere with insulin receptors that reduce the use of glucose as an energy source.

E.J. Mundell wrote an article on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 for HealthDay News stating that Swedish scientists have proven that omega-3 fatty acids, which are nutrients that are helpful for neurological health, can pass the blood-brain barrier and potentially be used as a treatment for such diseases as Alzheimer’s. The study was originally published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, and it was funded by various Swedish research institutes and a manufacturer of fish oil supplements.

Despite the guidance of the NCCAM, the book is not closed on using vitamins and supplements to support better cognitive functions and delaying the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The FDA and NIH have relied upon pharmaceutical firms to provide research data on the efficacy of drugs to support cognitive functions, and there has been much lower funding to truly test the impact of vitamins and supplements in support of these same cognitive issues. Thousands of years of experience using herbs and food to treat cognitive function issues are being ignored.

In an earlier article titled Obama shifts $100 million into funding AIDS research, it was noted that vitamins and supplements have been proven to successfully slow the progression from HIV to AIDS when anti-retroviral drugs were not available.

This article details an instance in Botswana where anti-retroviral drugs to combat HIV were so expensive that treatment was not being done. A regimen of multiple B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium reduced the progression from HIV to AIDS by nearly 50% versus a placebo or alternative mixtures of different combinations of the various components.

The final conclusion reached by the author is that there are up to 5,000 years of successful use of foods and herbs that provide vitamins and nutrients to cure illnesses. You need to do your homework relating to your particular health issues. If you are concerned about your cognitive functions, consider the following:

  1. Exercise your mind and body and keep them as fit as possible.
  2. Consider taking B-vitamins, especially vitamin B6, and supplements including Omega-3 oils and medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oils, e.g. coconut and palm kernel oils.
  3. Stay mentally active and consider programs like Lumosity or other neuroscience-based programs to improve key cognitive functions.
  4. Pay attention to what you are doing in your day-to-day activities.

A lot of money is being spent on a global basis to help maintain cognitive functions of aging adults. The results will be helpful for this and future generations that are in the senior citizen age groups.

The information contained in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. The author is not a medical expert and readers may want to consult a medical expert if they are experiencing issues with cognitive functions.

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